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What role has class played in feminist movements?
Definition of feminism
Feminism is the pursuit for equal rights between women and men. It is a political and intellectual movement. Feminism aims to get rid of sexism. Feminism is the quest for social justice and there is varying perspectives on the economic, cultural, social and political aspects of feminism. Class is a key component in the feminist movement because along with the sexism against females, the class of the woman often exacerbates this.

Important Event for Women
Women in the U.S. were given the right to vote in the fight for women suffrage and that is often traced back to the Declaration of Sentiments, which was produced in the first woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848. The Woman’s Rights Convention in Syracuse followed four years later, in 1852. That was when the woman’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony joined the campaign, and it was her voice that led women to gaining the right to vote. She was even arrested for illegally voting in 1872. In 1878 a constitutional amendment proposed “The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” (Exploring, N.D.). For the next 41 years, the same bill would be introduced in every Congressional session. Slowly, individual states began allowing the women to vote and this was happening near the end of the 19th century. Finally, in 1919 the two-thirds vote necessary for woman suffrage was passed in Congress. It was then sent for ratification to the states. But many southern states did not like the proposed bill. The Tennessee house could have decided to ratify, but Harry Burns had the deciding vote and his mother wrote him a letter telling him to be a “Good boy and vote for suffrage,” (Exploring, N.D.).

The U.S. has taken on quite a different way of bringing women into power. The women’s liberation movement began in the 1960s when the gender said that it wanted a voice in politics (Women’s Leadership, N.D.). Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug were two of the people largely responsible for bringing women of all classes into the political arena. Chrisholm was an African-American woman who was the first coloured woman to be elected into Congress. She was from Brooklyn, NY. She ran for president in the early 1970s and co-founded the National Organization for Women (Women’s Leadership, N.D.). The other prominent U.S. woman politician in the 1970s, Abzug, was an outspoken Civil rights lawyer and also a peace activist. She was dedicated in her six years in Congress to social class issues. She was an author for the Right to Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

While these were very important years for the rights of women in the United States, it was in the 1990s that women made a major statement. Sixty million women came out to vote in the presidential election in 1992. This said that women wanted a voice and they demanded that their issues be heard. This is truly where every class of woman was heard. After all those women came out, 24 new women were elected into the House of Representatives. There were also five new women senators. That event represents the largest increase in the number of women in the political history of the U.S. (Women’s Leadership, N.D.).

Feminist Themes
Some of the issues investigated by Brooke Meredith Beloso in “Sex, Work, and the Feminist Erasure of Class,” inspires research in the field of feminism. Beloso denies that sex work negatively affects women everywhere. Instead, she says there are certain situations where it can be better than the alternative of not making any money. Lower-classed women may need to depend on prostitution to get by, she says. But in “Should Feminists Oppose Prostitution,” Shrage argues against prostitution, saying it goes against feminism because it oppresses women. She, however, does not say it should be abolished. Prostitution is to be considered damaging to the woman, she explains – that men are “naturally suited for dominant social roles,” (Shrage, 2012). But she says feminists have “legitimate reasons to politically oppose prostitution in our society,” (Shrage, 2012).

Feminist Movement Among India’s Poor Class Women
During the British Feminist Reform Movement and Civilizing Mission, Indian women were seen as “victims awaiting redress at the hands of imperial saviors in order to further their own claims for suffrage and political rights,” (Chitnis N.D.). Even though feminists in Britain were advocating for more rights of women in India, the Indian women didn’t want the support. They recognized that the efforts of women in Britain only took place so that the British feminists could have a voice that people would listen to. They were largely ignored on the home front as being too masculine and falling out of the natural role of women, but when they depicted the suffering Indian woman, they gained some voice. Ironically, the feminists in Britain at the time were advocating for the Indian woman to be good Victorian and proper women, something they refused to be themselves (Chitnis N.D.). So while India was struggling to gain independence from Britain, they were also fighting to have rights for their women. On the other side of the ocean, in the U.S., the nation was already free from the restraints of England. Regardless, they had a similar culture as England and did not need to find a new identity, or political structure in regards to the treatment of their women. Of course, women did not have the rights when the U.S. gained their independence as they would later have.

So the Indian women had a different challenge when they were given their independence from England. They were already given the right to vote when Britain separated their power from India, so there was no need for the women to become politically active to fight for their rights. This could be a reason why women today in India do not put up much of a fight for their rights. They have no heroes like Susan B. Anthony setting an example for them.

According to a report in India Knowledge Wharton Network, the Indian women leaders are striving for political reform, similar to what is being sought in the U.S., except these women are fighting for health care, education and funding so that the health care and education can happen (Role of Women, 2012). Health care is a major issue in India because there is not as much education. The education can help the women to know about birth control. However, even with the knowledge, the women may not be able to afford to pay for the birth control and even just for condoms. It is up to the men to take responsibility for making sure no babies are born and this can be a problem to afford even for men. Health care in the U.S. is not as much as a concern because women in the U.S. have more money than the women in India. The issue with health care in the U.S. is relatively equal between men and women because education and availability of birth control is high and that is the main difference between health care for men and women. The political women leaders said they are also challenged with finding ways those women can have enough money to achieve their goals.

Even though India now has a woman leader, there needs to be more economic empowering and this can be done through microfinance programs, which are already happening a lot in places like Bolivia, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Microfinance is a way that institutions can include people in the banking sector. Around 8 to 10 million households are part of microfinance programs in the world. The program is centred on group lending contracts and modern attitudes about subsidies. The program essentially pools lots of small amounts of money and then lends that money to very poor people when they need it. With this money, the poor people can find ways to earn money and then pay back their loans, along with interest on them (Murduch, 1999). Opportunities like this can help women who have less of a chance than men at being able to get jobs. Women who like weaving, for example, can use the money they get from the microfinance loans to buy material. With this material they are able to make things like clothes. Once they sell the clothes, they can use the money to feed their families. In the U.S, women do not have to worry as much about getting microfinance loans for two reasons: first, there are jobs in the U.S. that are more suited to women than in India. For example, there is such a greater number of businesses, which can hire women. Whereas in India, much of the jobs are labour related, which is suited mostly to men and is even more traditionally associated with men in India because of the traditional practices of men there (Murdoch, 1999)


But India is full of contradictions. Even though a woman is in power, there are not decisions like the microfinance initiative being pursued to help women have a better lifestyle. It should be noted, though, that women still only make up just over 11 per cent of the parliament (Role of Women, 2012). So while a woman is in power, she is not necessarily able to pass her policy proposals through her parliament. While the U.S. may think it has far greater rights for women than a country such as India, there were only 16.3 per cent of women in 535 seats in the 2012 congress (Women, 2012).
India and the United States are examples of countries that have made profound changes to the rights of women. But one country was able to move forward at a much quicker speed than the other. Women in India suffer extreme oppression, despite being included in the political arena.  Women who are poor face particular challenges, including those related to health, education and protection against violence. It is the financial capital in the U.S. that has allowed the nation to outpace India as a leader in women’s rights.

The rise of rights among Indian women is a bit of a usual thing because India is known to have some of the worst ways of treating women (Role of Women, 2012). While there is a lot of poverty in the entire country, women have consistently been violated and discriminated against, so it is strange that a woman now holds power in the country. Women have so often been malnourished, suppressed and uneducated, even more than the rest of the people in the country who also suffer from a lesser degree of this fate. Many women are married when they are 13 years old because the mother cannot afford to pay a dowry. Even women who are leaders must come home to serve their in-laws and husband (Role of Women, 2012).

It seems that each Indian election has high hopes of generating a lot of change for women, which never really comes to happen. But as more women come into power in parliament, there is a greater ability to pass bills which benefit the overall well-being of women throughout the country, reaching to the poorest class. If this type of progress is made, and if women play a role outside of office as well, then there could be a lot of progress towards making the situation for woman in India more equal to the treatment they receive in the U.S. But in order to generate the kind of change that will do anything, the people in office need to work hand in hand with the people who are not in office.

Finding Equality for Women Throughout the World
Gender equality is an issue that has taken hold in the Western World for quite some time, and many have said that it has been achieved. However, while the issue has subsided in most people’s eyes throughout the developed world, the problem is still dominant in the developing world. The concept of women having equal rights to men is a fact of life right now in Western Society, and there is little opposition to be seen about that fact – though some people still reference an unequal pay scale. This is due to a hard struggle by some very determined women, but there was at the time much reluctance by many in society. That same type of reluctance is being felt on many parts of the world, and with so many people in developing countries focused on simply trying to survive for another day, there is little attention given to women’s rights. Largely, the fight in the developed world has been successful due to the efforts of non-governmental organizations. NGOs in the developing countries are often occupied with issues pertaining to poverty and conflict, for example, and this takes away from the focus on women’s rights.

Continual Struggle Throughout the Developing World
The issue related to women in is considered to be highly controversial (Women, n.d.). There is a considerable amount of information on the subject, and this is often in print or online, and it should only be read with extreme caution (Women, n.d.). It is very difficult to trust the material written about the women of Islam because it does not contain enough objectivity (Women, n.d.). There are various challenges that are faced with conceptualizing the issue that surrounds the women of Islam. “While it is generally agreed that the rights granted to women in the Qur’an and by the prophet Muhammad were a vast improvement in comparison to the situation of women in Arabia prior to the advent of Islam, after the Prophet’s death the condition of women in Islam began to decline and revert back to pre-Islamic norms (Women, n.d.). However, as the women’s movement in the West began to accelerate during in the 20thcentury, there was a similar occurrence, though this was done to a lesser extent, and it was through the Muslim world at that time (Women, n.d.). The feminists during the Muslim world of the 20th century until the 1980s were typically upper class women who modelled their brand of feminisms after the feminists of the West. However, as modern socio-political models in the Muslim world began to take shape after the colonial period started during the 20th century, the shift from the Western models of the government and society to what was considered to be the Islamic models, there was a feminism in the Muslim world that started to develop Islamic forms instead of developing based on the western model of feminism (Women, n.d.). This fact has been proven true not only in the women of Islam, but also of the women of all of the feminist movements throughout the world.

Modern Islamic Attitudes Towards Women
Over 90 percent of Pakistani wives have been abused sexually abused, beaten or struck for not cooking what the husband considers to be a satisfactory meal, or for not giving birth to a male child (Spencer, 2010). Men who are dominating their women by violence is an action that the Muslim cling to (Spencer, 2010). “In Spring 2005, when the East African nation of Chad tried to institute a new family law that would outlaw wife beating, Muslim clerics led resistance to the measure as un-Islamic” (Spender, 2010). The daughter beating and sister beating is considered to be a routine and the beatings when the females are young are considered to be psychological seasoning so that the girls will accept the treatments when they get older (Spencer, 2010).

One of the major reason why this abuse is widely accepted, is due to the fact that Islamic clerics throughout the world have spoken in approval of the physical abuse of women (Spencer, 2010). “In 2004, an imam in Spain, Mohammed Kamal Mustafa, was found guilty of ‘inciting violence on the basis of gender’ for his book Women in Islam, which was a discussion about the limits and methods of the administration of ‘physical punishment’ of women” (Spencer, 2010). However, most of the time Muslim men bring the religiously sanctioned violence along with them whenever they immigrate to the West, and even into the United States (Spencer, 2010). A prominent American Muslim leader named Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, who is the former president of the Islamic Society of North America, said that it is acceptable in some cases for the husband to use light disciplinary action to correct a moral infraction that is contained within his wife, and the Koran is extremely clear about this issue (Spencer, 2010).

The Western Experience
The interpretations of the social issues that are contained within the Islamic sources have typically been affected by the interactions that are inherent in the surrounding social structures (Roald, 2009). There has been an era of widespread migration into the western ideals, and this has caused some recognition among Muslims of there being an alternative way of living (Roald, 2009). Various changes in attitude exist in relation to the Muslim experience of those who have migrated, and the Muslims have been perceived by themselves (Roald, 2009). This results in there being a logical reflection about the variety of methodological and theoretical issues that relate to the continuity and change in the Muslim communities around Europe (Roald, 2009). “In research into Islam, misunderstandings and misconceptions arise both from the side of researchers and from the side of those being researched (Road, 2009). That leads to the exploration of the reasons why the Muslims agree to be the objects of the research, and to see if the researchers are sufficiently understanding the reasons (Roald, 2009). One of the areas of research that provides troubling perceptions in relation to the Western attitudes towards Muslim women is the fact that many of the researchers are themselves Muslim, and this could taint their perceptions. However, not all of the researchers are Muslim, and some objective information can be gained about the attitude towards Muslim women in the west. “The Islamic presence in Europe is perceived as a homogenous mass. However, even within national groups there are wide variations in terms of class, education and ideological standpoints” (Roald, 2009).


Gender Imbalance
Gender imbalance is a major issue that required the persistent force of devoted women for decades to achieve some semblance of equality in several countries throughout the world. That same struggle continues today and many nations have not been able to realize the equal rights that many western nations follow. It is clear that there is a lack of balance between the rights of women and men in many nations. India is one of the most interesting case studies on this topic. While India is rapidly becoming a force in the global market, and its economy is developing at a staggering pace, there is little being done about gender rights in the country. However, the Constitution in India set out in 1951 a statement that reads, “the State shall endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years,” (Purnima, 2010). Because the economy in India has been dismal, that right has never really been enforced, as women and children were required to work, in addition to their husbands. That means there is not the equal opportunity for females go to school as there is for males.

Many people believe India has a culture of poverty that can only be addressed by education and by the inclusion of women into roles that are traditionally associated with men, but the country lacks the NGOs that can make this a reality. By making primary education available and open to both women and children, the future can begin to be forged, but there is a lack of involvement at the government level or at the non-government level, and the country is remaining stagnant when it comes to women’s rights.
Many Indians do not believe in the notion of education and they are unaware of the negative implications of harsh labour many women have to endure. This way of thinking separates the privileged from the poor and allows for inhumane treatment.  Poverty deprives the women of quality education and of the opportunity to acquire skills for a better future. “Nearly 30 per cent of the Indian population is living below the poverty line and 41.6 per cent and 75.6 per cent of the poorest population is living under $1.25 and $2 dollars a day…” (Ahmad, 2011). Women in India are a financially viable source of labour for families and it is no surprise when one finds women from the poor villages recruited and forced to leave home and education to participate in cruel labour in harsh working conditions. Poor households in India with no savings, assets, or access to credit are most likely to send young females to work, rather than educate them.

In order to have the type of progress that women in the U.S. have experiencedparticularly in the last half of the 20th century, women in countries throughout the world will need to have greater participation from the populace and this needs to be facilitated by NGOs if the government is not making progress (Ahmad, 2011). There is currently a large gap in the way women in the Western World are treated and how women in many other countries are treated, and the only way to create change is for women to speak up. Women in developing countries are so often oppressed and made to believe they cannot be anything more than maids, that there are not enough powerful voices for women. If women are not throwing their arms up in protest about the way they are being treated, then little change will happen for the gender. It seems that each Indian election has high hopes of generating a lot of change for women, which never really comes to happen. But as more women come into power in parliament, there is a greater ability to pass bills, which benefit the overall well being of women throughout the country and in similar countries. If this type of progress is made, and if women play a role outside of office as well, there could be a lot of progress made towards making the situation for woman throughout the world more equal to the treatment they receive in the West.

Gender stereotypes have been a major part of the lives of many people. Gradually, many of these stereotypes, and gender barriers, have broken down, but there are still assumptions in most communities about the personal tendencies of people in gender groups. WID (Rathgeber, 1990), which is integration of women in the worldwide growth of politics, economics and society is one way of looking at women’s situations. WAD is women and development. GAD is ender and development (Rathgeber, 1990).

WAD is a useful framework to develop an understanding of the relationship women have had with society as a whole, and how that interaction has played out since the early 1970s when the term came into prominence. The term likely became used because the 1970s was a great time for progress among women and breaking down the gender barriers that prevented them from assuming jobs that were typically designated for men. During this period, governments were writing legislation that protected women from employers discriminating against them for their gender. WAD was needed to take a close look at the roles that were typically assigned to women and the ways they affected the needs of the capitalist system, which was experiencing an agricultural revelation during the period and required the help of women, as “The Journal of Developing Areas” points out, (Rathgeber, 1990). Frameworks such as these are often needed to keep an objective view about the material that is being analyzed, and the WAD provided a name for the transformation that was taking place in the workforce. The data that was compiled helped modernize the employment strategies and it helped create a focus on the sexual division of labour (Rathgeber, 1990).

WID provided the beginning of the study of the gender-specific division of labour. This beginning work was effective at bringing to surface action plans that helped address an unfair division of labour. This is an important time because there was a growing need in the workforce for people who could help fill the many jobs in the agriculture sector, which was becoming much more needed due to increased production and demand from farms during the period (Rathgeber, 1990).

The modernization exemplified in WID also helped lead to including more women in field of the education system where a trained workforce was needed. These new frameworks helped to include women more in modernization. Prior to this time, women were not always included in analysis. For example, women were now given specific attention because of the principles created by WID. Prior to these principles, there was an overarching attitude towards favouring men during analysis (Rathgeber, 1990).

The overarching benefit that the WID had was the way it put women’s issues and how they relate to the working economy into focus. This was much needed to get the wheels of modernization moving. And the research that WID resulted in showed that there were inconsistencies between equal rights and the ways women were treated in the workforce.

WAD takes WID one step further, but it also fails in some departments. For example, it does not look at the oppression of women like WID does. In essence, the term comes up short in the analysis of the subordination of women. However, it also takes a more critical view of the position of women. There is a key assumption that it is too complacent, and that is the perception that the roles of women will improve when the structures shared internationally become equal. In order for there to be changes to the development of the rights of women, the theory states, there needs to be more representation among women in political office, and in other arenas that affect their social status. The theory behind the term fails to set out actionable responses to the oppression of women in development. Rather, it implies that certain areas will be improved if there is greater participation and acceptance of women in areas where decisions that affect the gender can be created and applied at a societal level. The WAD does not address the oppressive nature of society against the interests of women. It takes a more general look at the issues in society, such as class division among both genders. WAD sees both men and women as being disadvantaged, which is correct, but an emphasis on women is needed in WAD because the term uses the word “women” in its title.

It has been argued that both WID and WAD only research the economic effects of women in development without giving any value to the social aspects of women in their role in society: “The labour invested in family maintenance, including childbearing and rearing, housework, care of the ill and elderly, and the like, has been considered to belong to the ‘private’ domain and outside the purview of development projects aimed at enhancing income-generating activities,” (Rathgeber, 1990).
The term “GAD” became popular in the 1980s and is essentially a newer version of WID. In this framework, women and gender were combined as one with no regard for the various exploitations that were obvious in women. This was the crux of the issue, because in order to modernize women’s relations with the world in which they work, there needed to be progress made in mitigating, and eliminating, the oppression of women. There was only a basic set of tools designed to analyze the interaction of women and the world around them, and it did not get personal enough to make any progressive steps in the way women were treated in society (Rathgeber, 1990).

The main reason GAD neglected to look at the detailed aspects of women and how they relate to society is because GAD was focused on a holistic approach that did not look at just one gender. The focus was more on the general construction of gender and the various roles that are given to each gender. It was a stereotypical analysis, as it looked at the roles that both sexes were expected to undertake. However, the research was also based on what the most common roles are among women and men. GAD was also strong in the sense that it welcomed all perspectives, and did not just focus on the views of women in its development. This gave it a more general focus, but it was perhaps stronger because it was more objective. Without the subjectivity of only having the perspective of one gender, GAD was better able to become something that could fit into a society, which is obviously made up of both men and women. It should be noted that the concerns factored into GAD were from men and women who were interested in social justice. GAD uses these perspectives to attempt to provide a framework on which society can develop with both genders being considered.

GAD is largely different from WID and WAD in that it looks at the value of the work done by women in the household, and it factors in the family unit as being an integral role to a well-functioning society (Rathgeber, 1990). It also looked at the role of both genders in the household indiscriminately, while recognizing there is a need from the state to help preserve the family unit, such as funding in situations where adequate care for children cannot be given. This differs from the two other focuses, which do not recognize the need for public assistance in the family unit. GAD recognizes that women are prone to oppression in families, and they are the source of much of the assistance that should be given because of their higher tendency to be in situations such as single parenthood.

Gender Roles in Christian Marriage           
Christianity has had and would continue to confine women to the home. According to Christianity, the wives are supposed to take care of the husband, children and household, while men bring home the financial means necessary to sustain or improve the family’s well-being. But much of that has changed since the development of gender equality. According to Carrie A. Miles in her book “The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World,” she analyzes traditional Christian marriage from the standpoint of a socioeconomics. She uses this standpoint to investigate what she believes to be a problem today with marriage and gender norms as they move past the traditional concept of the wife tending her husband, children and the home while the husband earns a living for the family. “The age of wealth in the industrialized world turns the value of the marriage relationship and children into that of consumption rather than production, since the necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, education – can be purchased more economically than produced at home,” (Havens, n.d.). She is saying that contemporary means have withered away at traditional marriage, and women are now driven to also earn a living. However, as Rebecca A. Havens of Point Lorna Nazarene University, who reviewed the book, says, Miles makes “wide sweeping” statements that touch on several societal problems, but never really get to the heart of the changing gender roles in marriage. The traditional views presented by Miles, and eventually debunked by the more rational views of Havens, are deteriorating. “Ideas about roles and responsibilities of the husband and wife now vary considerably on a continuum between the long-held male-dominant/female-submission view and a growing shift toward equality (without sameness) of the woman and the man,” (Christian, n.d.).

Traditionally, of course, men were the bacon-carrying breadwinners of the household, and women tended to the home duties such as taking care of the kids, cooking dinner and doing laundry. But all that has changed since Better Friedan encouraged women to step outside their homes and search for careers (Parker-Pope, 2013). Recent research shows that in one-third of households, the woman is more educated than her husband, and in 22 per cent of marriages, it is the wife who brings home the cash. That is an increase of about 15 percentage points from 1970, (Parker-Pope, 2013).
Interestingly, the same research found that the shift in money-making dynamics has had a positive result in marriages. Men taking on more work in the house has a positive effect on marriage (Parker-Pope, 2013). According to Stephanie Coontz, the reason marriages have been more successful is because instead of women looking to marry up into a more educated or economically stable household, they are now choosing to marry men who are interested in an egalitarian relationship. This is an interesting fact, because it implies that the role traditionally associated with men, which is dominance in the household, was causing the problems with the marriages. These views are also reflected in Tichenor’s piece, which says that when men earned the money, they had the right to control it, and this control echoed into other areas of the household.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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